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Saving Snowmobiling: It’s Up To You, And It’s Also Fun!

By John Prusak

My neighbor Brent (in the Carhartts at left, pictured with my buddy Steve) may not have the snazziest gear, but he loved the new sleds after being out of the sport for a number of years.

I can’t always claim to walk-the-walk after I talk-the-talk. There have been times, for instance, where I have extolled the virtue of supporting local businesses over big box stores, and then ended up buying my bathroom remodeling supplies at Home Depot, and I have looked the other way too often when my wife uses her Amazon Prime account. I’ve stressed the importance of following all of the rules of the trail, and then admittedly coasted through a few too many stop signs. Yes, I’m imperfect.

After making a pledge in a column written earlier this year in Snow Goer, however, I am quite proud to say that I put a plan into action, and now I’d like to use my own experiences to encourage you to do the same.

The column, titled “Just Take Two,” appeared in the February 2018 issue of Snow Goer and made the case that each of us – as snowmobile enthusiasts – has to take a vested interest in growing our sport by inviting two people out for a ride this winter who were either new to the sport or who had previously ridden but had gotten out of the sport. The theory is this: Snowmobiling is so fun that if you either introduce new people to the sport or reinvigorate somebody’s interest in it by putting their butt on a seat, they will become more interested and will possibly want the equipment themselves – or, at the very least, they will talk positively about the sport to their family and friends and possibly create a butterfly effect. That column is posted below in its entirety.

Now to my boast: So far this winter, I have taken 13 such people for a ride.

It started with one-day trail rides with people who used to own sleds but, for one reason or another, got out of the sport. They included my neighbor Brent; my former co-worker Bill; my cousin Brad, my high school buddy Dave and my own parents. Past riders are the easiest people to get out for a ride because they have fond memories of doing it in their past. They are also likely the easiest people to get back into the sport because they are usually amazed by the suspension and handling capabilities of modern sleds.

My cousin Brad hadn’t spent quality time on a sled built since his old 1987 Ski-Doo Formula MX but was super-enthused after our ride on a cold day in Wisconsin, and posted about it on social media. Though, he said say, “Don’t they build sleds with windshields anymore?!?!”

Then, last week, Snow Goer Sales Director Mark Rosacker and I set up a special day for co-workers on a lake located a mile from our Plymouth, Minnesota, office. We sent a company-wide email telling people to bring their boots, jackets and gloves to work on Friday and then meet us on a local lake for a brief, guided demo ride. We sized them up for helmets, had other spare gear on hand and then put their butts on seats. We happened to select a 34-degree, sunny day, so some people rejected snow pants and just rode in jeans.

By the standards of snowmobiling veterans, it was a rather dull ride – all contained on the surface of a snow-covered, 900-acre lake. But that lake was conveniently located close to our office and was perfect for an introduction to beginners – and the seven co-workers (Adam, Amy, Chad, Jimmy, Kelsey, Nicole and Susan) who took us up on our offer were ecstatic by the end of their rides.

After introducing the riders to the machines, we had each of the newbies play follow-the-leader as we charted a weaving course on the lake surface, traveling in and out of bays at a controlled pace, stopping for photos, letting people try different machines, etc. Each rider got a little something different out of the experience – some of the young motorcycle owners in the group were enthused about the strong acceleration of the machines (particularly of the Yamaha Sidewinder L-TX SE), while some of the other new riders were amazed by the creature comforts (particularly on the Polaris 800 Titan Adventure). Each rider loved the experience in their own way. Many photos were posted on social media, and I’m guessing each person spent part of their weekend telling family members or friends about their great experience and first taste of snowmobiling.

Did we create any new snowmobile owners? Maybe, or maybe not. But in a couple hours of our time we shared a life experience with people, and we got them to appreciate the fun that can be had behind a snowmobile’s handlebar.

So, what are you doing to save and protect our sport? If there’s still snow in your area, why not plan something in the next week? You’ll make a friend for life and you’ll help the sport we all love. 

Now, here’s that column from the February issue of Snow Goer.

Co-workers Kelsey and Nicole also shared their experience about snowmobiling on social media and got many likes.

Just Take Two

I’m going to go out on a limb here: If you’re reading this, I’m guessing there are times where you’ve said, “You know, I’m not as young as I used to be.” In fact, right now is the oldest you’ve ever been – how’s that for a realization?!

Jokes aside, as most people age they start thinking about what they’re leaving to the generation after them. I’m not here to talk about the status of our planet, our country or our culture  – let’s leave that to talk radio and political websites. Instead, I’m focusing on our sport of snowmobiling.

In one sense, snowmobiling is the best it’s ever been: The machines are more capable and dependable than ever; the trail system is still extensive and impressive; and the available accessories – from high-tech riding gear to GPS gauges to new trailers – have never been better. Yet when a person looks at the big picture, snowmobiling is facing some big challenges, and it’s up to those of us who enjoy the sport to fix them because, again, it’s our sport.

Many problems, including aging snowmobile club members and grassroots workers, snowmobile prices, threats to trail systems and backcountry riding areas, the slipping of our political clout and more, can be traced to one fact: Not enough people – and younger people in particular – are entering snowmobiling.

Sled ownership is down across North America, new sled sales are down and active club membership is the same in many areas, while prices for most things – including sleds, trail permits and registrations – are up. But when we’re actually snowmobiling, things have never been better. I’m still convinced (and I’m guessing you might be, too) that it’s still by far the most exhilarating, interesting and fun thing to do in the winter.

My buddy Dave sold his sleds in recent years, thinking he was done with snowmobiling. After our ride in the Bayfield Peninsula, he’s rethinking that decision.

If we truly want to protect snowmobiling, here is one very simple solution: Take some newcomers for a good ride, because once most people experience the sport, they fall in love with it! It’s up to each of us to set the hook.

Around our office and when talking to snowmobile industry insiders, we talk about this as the magic of putting “butts in seats.” If you put somebody’s butt on a snowmobile seat and share the experience with them, they will likely want to do it again. Snowmobile factory officials talk about the need to do it, but whenever they host a demo ride event it’s a bunch of us – the already converted – who show up, and the would-be/could-be newcomers stay away. The manufacturers should (and really must) find more ways to expand our sport, but ultimately it also comes down to you and me spreading the gospel of snowmobiling to people with whom we already have a relationship. 

When’s the last time you shared the joyous experience of snowmobiling with a friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative? Let them borrow some good gear while you get by with your coveralls for that day; let them ride the good sled while you ride the lesser one; and ride at a pace that makes them feel comfortable. Buy them lunch at a folksy pitstop and then get them back to the tow-vehicle or cabin before dark. How could they not fall in love with snowmobiling?

Make the pledge with me to take two people out for such a ride this winter, and if they’re a decade or more younger than you, consider it bonus points. You’ll both have fun, and you will have done our sport a huge favor.

  

My parents are the ones who got me involved in powersports, though they’re mainly ATV riders now. A trail ride aboard new sleds will hopefully lure them back into my world! (Mom is cheating toward the center of the trail in this image so she doesn’t run over the photographer she brought into the world 52 years earlier!)

 

 

Co-workers Adam and Chad both have motorcycle experience but snowmobiling was rather new to them. They were impressed and want to go snowmobiling a

3 comments

  1. Very good article!

    For myself, the biggest issue is the length of season and SNOW. If we had snow from Dec 1 – March 31, I could take so many new people riding. The issue with my location(central WI, 1 hr north of Madison), our local trails opened for 2 days this year. The last 4 years have been horrible. They were able to open about 2 days each year. I have so much time and money invested into this sport, I cannot give one of my sleds out to someone new on the only local day of riding. I need to capitalize on that 1 day of local riding time. I mark and brush a lot of locals trails, so I want to take advantage of my time.
    I take 2 trips up North, but none of my non-riding buddies will commit to going North. Time and Money!
    The good winters of late 2000’s I took a lot of people out and they enjoyed it!

    I agree about the youth. I’m 32 and by far youngest at my local and county meetings. I hold office positions in both.

    We need more snow!!

    • Hey Matt – We’re glad you liked the article and couldn’t agree more that we could always use more snow! We hope the season went well for you, and thanks for following Snow Goer!

  2. Start them young with Toasty Tot Handlebars! That’s what I made for my kids and now, my customers.
    Toastytothandlebars.com

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